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205: LEPINE, wolf-tooth train, INVENIT ET FECIT

Lot 0205
wolf -tooth train
LEPINE, A PARIS, INVENIT ET FECIT, NO. 5418, CIRCA 1785 Very rare and fine, 18K yellow gold, quarter-repeating, à toc watch with wolf-tooth train

This watch features most of Lépine’s horological inventions, including the 1763 revolutionary repeating mechanism in which the hour and quarter racks were placed directly on the winding arbor. The new design was a great improvement, eliminating the fragile winding chain. It also gave the system better stability and decreased friction, while saving room and simplifying the mechanism. This was a great improvement in repeating watches. The 1763 Mémoire of the Académie des Sciences, in the chapter “Machines ou inventions approuvées par l’Académie en 1763,” gave a very favorable report of Lépine’s invention. The idea, with some modifications, still survives today. The watch also features his other inventions: wolf-tooth train and racks (wolf teeth being considerably stronger than regular symmetrical ones). Lépine used them on the racks of most of his repetition work, a two-part case with a concealed hinge, and an elegant way of opening the case by twisting the pendant. Another feature found in the watch is an anti-dust arrangement in which the front plate is integrated with the dust ring, minimizing the dust penetration. At the time, Lépine and André Hessen were the only ones to use this arrangement, although Hessen used it on full plate calibers. The watch also features alternating Roman and Arabic numerals, typical for Lépine. Jean-Antoine Lépine (1720-1814), son of Jean “The King’s Mechanical Expert”, was born on 18 November 1720 at Challex, a small village a few kilometers north of Geneva. After having worked for some time at the establishment of Decrose, at the Grand Saconnex in the suburbs of Geneva, he arrived in Paris in 1744. A workman for André Charles Caron, the King’s Clockmaker and father of Beaumarchais, he married his employer’s daughter in 1756 and was received as Master in 1765. He was appointed “Horloger du Roi” (King’s Clockmaker) about 1765. In 1766 he succeeded Caron, and appeared on the list of Paris clockmakers of that year as Jean-Antoine Lépine, Hger du Roy, rue Saint Denis, Place Saint Eustache. In 1772, Lépine established himself in the Place Dauphine; in 1778-1779, Quai de l’Horloge du Palais; then in the rue des Fossés Saint Germain l’Auxerrois near the Louvre in 1781; and finally at 12 Place des Victoires in 1789. In 1782, his daughter Pauline married one of his workmen, Claude-Pierre Raguet, with whom he formed a partnership in 1792. In 1763 he invented a new repeating mechanism for watches, which was published in the Mémoires de l’Académie des Sciences in 1766. His new caliber, of revolutionary concept, replacing the rear plate by bridges, was invented about 1770. The different moving parts could thenceforward be dismounted separately, which made maintenance and repair much easier. Also, the use of a dead-beat escapement, less sensitive to variations in the driving force than the recoil escapement hitherto in use, allowed him to suppress the fusee. This new lay-out was improved by Breguet, who adopted it beginning in 1790 for most of his watches. Lépine was responsible for a number of other inventions, one of them being the virgule escapement, a simplification of the double virgule escapement, invented by his father-in-law and used by his brother-in-law, Pierre Augustin Caron (who became famous under the name of Beaumarchais). Competing with the cylinder escapement invented in England, the virgule escapement had a certain amount of success on the Continent at the end of the eighteenth century and at the beginning of the nineteenth, when it was used by numerous clockmakers. However, it had the inconvenience of not holding oil, and wore out quickly when it was not perfectly executed. Lépine also developed a new form of case, à charnières perdues, with concealed hinges and a fixed bezel. Since these watches were rewound and set from the rear, the movement was protected from dust by an inner case. This new arrangement had the advantage of preventing access from the dial face, thus avoiding damaging it or the hands. Other inventions by Lépine had only an ephemeral success, justifying neither the difficulty of their execution, nor the increase in price. This was true of wolf teeth wheels, intended to limit friction, and a method of re-winding without a key, operated by pumping the stem. Lépine remained faithful to his country of origin, and went often to the Gex countryside, particularly to Ferney, where Voltaire had set up a watch manufactory in 1770. Friendly relations were established between Lépine and the philosopher, but we do not know the exact role he played in the Ferney manufactory. It is certain that he gave commissions to the workshops there until 1792. An unsigned memoir of 1784 reports that Lépine stayed in Ferney for 18 months and that he had watch movements made there with a value of 90,000 livres a year. After his retirement, sometime around 1793, although he had lost his sight, Lépine continued to be active in the firm managed by his son-in-law until his death on 31 May 1814, at the age of 93 years old.

FUNCTIONS:: Quarter repeating, hours, minutes
SIGNED: Dial and cuvette; case hallmarked with standard French gold marks
CASE: Two-part, Lepine type with concealed hinge, opens by twisting the pendant, polished, hinged, gilt cuvette
DIAL: White enamel, upright alternating Arabic and Roman numerals, outer minutes divisions with five-minute red Arabic markers
HANDS: Blued steel Breguet
MOVEMENT: 50 mm, Lepine caliber with standing barrel, the front plate integrated with dust ring, lateral lever escapement, original three-arm gold balance with flat balance spring, LeRoy’s anchor governor, repeating with single hammer on gold blocks inside the case by depressing the pendant


CASE: Very good
DIAL: Very good
HANDS: Very good
MOVEMENT: Very good, escapement now with lever

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205: LEPINE, wolf-tooth train, INVENIT ET FECIT

Estimate €7,000 - €10,000Nov 28, 2009
9 rue de la Cité
Geneva, 1204
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